Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe announces hunger strike to protest lack of medical care in Iran prison

Mother-of-one says she is being refused access to medical help despite breast cancer scare, as worried husband calls urgent meeting with Iranian diplomats 

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Thursday 03 January 2019 10:35 GMT
Husband of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe gives Christmas update on British charity worker jailed Iran

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British charity worker jailed in Iran, has announced she will start a hunger strike on 14 January after being refused access to urgently needed medical care.

Writing from Tehran’s Evin prison, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she will initially start a three-day strike with fellow inmate and prominent rights activist Narges Mohammadi that will continue until their demands are met.

The British dual national and mother-of-one has been behind bars since she was arrested from Tehran airport while on holiday visiting family in April 2016.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told The Independent that prison officials had refused to allow doctors to examine lumps in her breasts or to proceed with neurological care over her neck pains and numbness in her arms and legs.

He said inmates were also being threatened with reduced phone calls and restricted access to food and has called for an urgent meeting with the Iranian ambassador to London.

The joint letter, published by Tehran-based Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) on Thursday, said both women had been barred access to medication and treatment “despite frequent requests” and appeals to relevant authorities. Emergency referral to outside clinics by Evin’s own prison doctor was also ignored by the authorities.

“In protest against this illegal, inhuman and unlawful behaviour, and to express our concerns for our health and survival at this denial of specialist treatment, despite taking daily medicines, we will go on hunger strike from 14 to 16 January and ask for immediate care,” the letter read.

“In the event of the authorities’ failure to address these concerns and them further endangering our health, we will take further actions. The authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran are to be held responsible for the potential consequences,” it added.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who turned 40 last week in jail, was separated from her 21-month daughter at Tehran airport and taken into detention in April 2016 while she was attempting to return home to London. She was left at risk of suicide after eight months in solitary confinement.

She was later handed a five-year jail sentence on espionage charges she denies, in a short trial where she was barred proper access to legal representation.

Her incarceration has been widely condemned as “a travesty of justice”. The Islamic Republic has so far denied appeals from senior British officials to release her.

Her 1,000th day behind bars was marked on 28 December.

Mr Ratcliffe, who spoke to his wife on Sunday, told The Independent the family were seriously concerned about the hunger strike, fearing that she is not physically strong enough to pull through it.

[They have been] denied healthcare but there are also threats of reduced calls and restrictions on families buying extra food

Richard Ratcliffe, husband to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Iran

“I had not wanted her to take this step. But she and Narges felt it was time, as there have been a number of pressures in the ward just recently – [they have been] denied healthcare but there are also threats of reduced calls and restrictions on families buying extra food,” he explained.

“I think it could be a really tough January for us – we are still half hoping that something moves so that it doesn’t happen,” he added.

On Wednesday Mr Ratcliffe also wrote to Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to request an urgent meeting with Iran’s ambassador to London “saying things are escalating too far for them to continue never to meet”.

Ms Mohammadi, 46, who is one of Iran’s best-known activists and vice president of the DHRC, has been incarcerated since 2015, when she was arrested and charged with “collusion against national security” and “committing propaganda against the state”. She is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence.

Her brother Hamidreza, 40, told The Independent Ms Mohammadi first fell ill after a long stint in solitary confinement. Like Nazanin, she has a neurological disorder which causes muscular paralysis that the family fear could become permanent. She also has an untreated and unexamined growth in her stomach.

They know the dangers of the hunger strike, it is their last resort

Hamidreza, brother of hunger-striking activist Nagres Mohammadi

“She has serious problems and without access to medication it will endanger her health and life,” he said.

“They know the dangers of the hunger strike, it is their last resort. If the authorities don’t grant them proper medical attention, it is very likely they will keep hunger striking,” he added.

International rights groups urged the Iranian authorities to allow the women immediate access to medical care and called on UK government officials to put pressure on their Iranian counterparts.

“It’s shocking and unforgivable that the Iranian authorities can callously force prisoners of conscience into starving themselves in protest at their plight,” said Ellie Kennedy, an Individuals at Risk Campaigner at Amnesty International UK.

“It should obviously never have come to this,” she added.

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